The eastern Libyan-based parliament speaker urged Egypt to intervene militarily if forces allied with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) attack the strategic city of Sirte, Egypt’s state news agency reported.
An Egyptian intervention in Libya would be “legitimate … if terrorists and armed militias crossed the red line”, Aguila Saleh was quoted by the official MENA news agency on Wednesday.
“The Libyan people are officially calling for Egypt to interfere with the military if needs to maintain Libyan national security and Egyptian national security require it.”
Libya, a major oil producer, has been in chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Since 2014, it has been divided between rival factions based in the capital Tripoli and in the east, in a sometimes chaotic war that has attracted outside powers and an avalanche of weapons and foreign mercenaries.
Eastern-based forces under renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April last year to try to capture Tripoli from the GNA.
Haftar’s forces, backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia, were forced to withdraw from much of western Libya in recent weeks after Turkey intensified its support for the government of Prime Minister Fayez al- Sarraj, negotiated by the UN. .
Encouraged by their recent victories on the battlefield, GNA-aligned forces said they would halt their advance after recapturing Sirte, a city of some 125,000 people in the Mediterranean coast and the Jufra inland air base.
However, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned over the weekend that any attack on Sirte or YouFra would amount to crossing a “red line.”
He said Egypt could intervene militarily to protect its western border with the oil-rich country.
In response, the GNA said it viewed el-Sisi’s comments as a “declaration of war.”
El-Sisi’s threat prompted Italy, Germany and the United States to press for a ceasefire, fearing an even broader war. Arab League foreign ministers also warned against “continuing military action that disrupts existing front lines” in Libya.
Early Wednesday, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio visited Tripoli, where he met with al-Sarraj.
A declaration from the GNA headquarters said both men rejected “negative foreign interference” in Libya.
They also discussed the European Union’s naval operation in the Mediterranean aimed at applying a UN arms embargo to Libya, the statement said, without providing details.
Di Maio told reporters after his return to Rome that he relayed to al-Sarraj Italy’s concerns about a possible attack on Sirte, which he says could lead to further fighting and more civilian casualties.
“I said how essential it is to avoid freezing the conflict and that this possibility would lead to a de facto division of the country,” he said.
The divided country in two would be “unacceptable” and would lead to more conflict, he added.
Al Jazeera and news agencies